UN officials urge health focus in post-emergency Haiti

A mother shelters her children from the sun in Cité Soleil, Haiti

27 January 2010 – While United Nations agencies and their partners are providing immediate assistance to the survivors of Haiti’s earthquake, they are also stressing the need to ensure that those dealing with physical and emotional scars from the disaster receive the long-term support they need.

There are still no official figures on exactly how many people perished in the wake of the 7.0-magnitude quake that struck the impoverished Caribbean nation on 12 January or those left injured. But estimates indicate that at least 150,000 people may have died.

UN agencies, including the World Health Organization (WHO) and the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), have been working around the clock with their partners on the ground to ensure that survivors receive the health care services they need.

At the same time, there is a strong need for post-operative care for the many people undergoing surgery for trauma injuries, especially once the relief effort moves past the emergency phase, according to WHO.

“We need to have in place in Haiti at least one or two or three teams … to deal with the consequences of these operations, amputations and infections,” Henriette Chamouillet, Country Director for WHO and its regional office for the Americas (PAHO), told a news conference, speaking from the quake-hit capital, Port-au-Prince.

Dr. Chamouillet said a major concern is rehabilitation for the thousands of amputees who will need support for months or maybe years. This will require that a number of skilled medical professionals, including surgeons and staff trained in rehabilitation, stay behind in the country.

A longer-term commitment is also vital to address the psychological trauma experience by both adults and children, both agencies emphasized.

UNICEF, which is leading the inter-agency effort on water and sanitation, has been distributing safe water to prevent outbreaks of waterborne diseases in Haiti, where only half the population of 9 million had access to clean water in the first place.

It is also addressing child nutrition needs, and working to keep children safe abuse and exploitation. A priority has been setting up child-friendly, safe spaces for children who are lost or separated from their families.

Noting that 40 per cent of Haiti’s population is below the age of 14, Guido Cornale, UNICEF Country Director, called the current situation in the country a “children’s emergency.”

The agency is currently focusing on “life-saving operations,” such as ensuring that all children have access to food, water and health care, he told reporters. In addition, it is working with WHO and PAHO to prepare an immunization campaign against measles, tetanus and diphtheria.

“It is urgent to get started with immunization of all children against highly communicable diseases,” said Dr. Cornale, noting that an outbreak of measles, for example, in the current situation could spread very fast considering the low immunization coverage prior to the quake.

The flash appeal for $575 million, launched by the UN and its aid partners in the immediate aftermath of the quake, is now 77 per cent funded, according to the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

Speaking to reporters today at UN Headquarters in New York, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon praised Japan and Saudi Arabia “for their recent and generous contributions” to the flash appeal.

But he emphasized that “we have a long way to go. We need tents and shelter, desperately. The aim, agreed with the Government, is to help people where they are, with relatively few new camps.

“The provision of food and escort security is also critical. I am confident, however, that the situation will begin to improve significantly by the end of the week.”


News Tracker: past stories on this issue

UN atomic agency to rush mobile X-ray units to Haiti

Related Stories





In-depth Interviews